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Hospital Cites Costs, Weighs Dropping Plan for AIDS Unit

Times Staff Writer,

Officials of Barlow Hospital near downtown Los Angeles are close to scrapping their plan to turn the former tuberculosis sanitarium into a comprehensive AIDS treatment center because, as one hospital official put it, the plan “doesn’t make any financial sense.”

The hospital’s directors last week rescinded a mission statement they had adopted last year that said Barlow should become an “organization with a major focus on AIDS.”

The directors then re-adopted a statement that describes the hospital as primarily a facility for people with respiratory problems.

The directors also appointed a committee to consider whether the hospital should refuse to accept a federal grant the hospital had obtained to set up an AIDS program. The $300,000 grant is $500,000 less than the hospital requested.

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The actions taken at the board’s meeting Thursday will have no effect on the planned opening on the hospital grounds next month of an independently run, 25-bed hospice for AIDS patients near death, and will not stop Barlow from accepting AIDS patients with respiratory problems, hospital administrator John Howard said.

The actions also are unrelated, he said, to his recent banning of evening and weekend meetings of AIDS support groups in a hall at the hospital.

‘Giving in to Fears’

But Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Hospice Foundation, which will run the hospice at Barlow, contends that the about-face on a more comprehensive AIDS program and Howard’s ban on the meetings indicate that the directors are “giving in to their worst fears and prejudices” about people with AIDS, particularly homosexuals.

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“If there is really a financial problem, let them open up the process to let people in the community come forward,” Weinstein said.

“If they agree to accept the grant, we’ll take the responsibility for funding the cost of the care.”

A from-diagnosis-to-death AIDS center at Barlow would have served, in some way, more than half the 2,500 people in Los Angeles County who have AIDS, Weinstein said. If the plans for the center are dropped, he said, an opportunity to provide housing each year to about one-third of homeless AIDS patients will be lost.

Weinstein contended that hospital officials have not done enough to seek financial resources for the comprehensive program, a contention that Howard and another hospital director deny.

“That may be somebody’s interpretation of what’s happening,” said Howard, “but we’ve been looking at this a long time.”

‘Inaccurate and Unfair’

He said allegations that hospital officials fear homosexuals or other AIDS patients are “totally, inaccurate and unfair.”

“If that’s true, why would we have allowed (the support groups) to meet here in the first place. Why would we support the hospice?”

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The meeting ban, he said, was adopted after hospital staff members, patients and their families complained that some of those attending sessions slept overnight in the meeting hall or in sleeping bags on the lawn. Buildings also had been left open overnight, Howard said.

The reconsideration of the comprehensive plan, said Philip Rich, president of the hospital directors, “is basically an economic decision and no more.”

Rich said that he and other directors had been “quite frankly naive about all this” two years ago, when they first explored devoting some of the more than two dozen buildings and cottages on Barlow’s grounds in Elysian Park to AIDS programs.

The directors’ consideration of AIDS programs came after four years of $1-million losses at Barlow, Rich said. The directors were “desperate” to find use for unused space, he said.

Finances Put in Order

Since then, Rich said, the hospital’s finances have been put in order through a reorganization of management and by staff cutbacks.

Also since then, he said, the directors have learned that Medi-Cal and private insurers will not make adequate reimbursement for care that would be necessary to treat AIDS patients.

“Medi-Cal told us that we would have to operate for a year, then they would consider what they would do,” said Howard.

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Hospital officials now are considering using the cottages for other medical programs, such as one for children with respiratory diseases.

“Actually, we have been considering these all along, while we were considering the AIDS program,” Howard said.

“I admit we wanted to have” the AIDS program, “but we’re also interested in having a hospital that doesn’t lose money.”


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